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Point 2 - The Lighthouse
Southwold lighthouse stands midway between Lowestoft and Orford. Trinity House needed to replace the ‘Low Light’ on the beach at Orfordness which had just been destroyed by storms for the fifth time.
The plot chosen for the lighthouse was described in the press as ‘very advantageous… the smoke from the town will not obscure the light and its nearness to the cliff must make it very prominent all along the coast.’
Construction on it began in 1886 and it took three years to complete the lighthouse. It’s a wonderful piece of classical Victorian engineering.
It took 1,500,000 half bricks to construct and these were brought to the site via Halesworth on the Southwold railway. The local coal merchant, Thomas Moy & Co, then brought them to the cliff top in his fleet of 15 horse-drawn wagons.
The lighthouse stands at 101 ft, making it 120 ft from sea level to the focus of the light. The lantern is reached via two winding staircases and 113 steps.
The lantern, formerly used at Happisborough Low Light, was built in 1886 and through a series of very complicated optics and prisms it was able to magnify what, in those days, was a fairly low-powered oil lamp.
The lantern weighed eight tons and it arrived from Harwich in two sections and was again transported by horse and cart. Then came the job of raising it to the top of the tower - no mean feat!
On the very top of the lighthouse is a large weather vane. In the old days when the dome was painted a careful watch had to be kept on the wind and the weather vane to ensure it didn’t swing suddenly and dislodge anyone from the top of the tower!
Fire up above
The light was inaugurated by Trinity House on 3rd September 1890, but only six days later there was fire in the lantern which destroyed the burner. This was due to the inexperience of the keepers! After additional training they were able to manage the intricacies of the six wick Argand oil burner.
Southwold Lighthouse spiral staircase
The lighthouse keepers
The lighthouse was never used as living quarters for the lighthouse keepers. Trinity House built two cottages at the back of the lighthouse where the keepers used to live.
The keepers would spend their nights in what’s called the service room, just below the lantern to make sure that everything was working efficiently. The wick was trimmed to the correct height to ensure the best possible light and the oil supply was monitored. The oil was contained in three lead lined tanks below the tower base and was pumped up to the burner.
In 1938 the lighthouse was electrified and there was no need for a full time keeper and the lighthouse was de-manned.
LISTEN/READ MORE ABOUT THE LIGHTHOUSE FROM PETER AUSTIN, ONE OF THE LIGHTHOUSE TOUR GUIDES. CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE >>
War time use
During WW 2 the lighthouse was used by the military for spotting enemy aircraft. It was lit for convoy purposes under instruction from the Admiralty.
In 2001 the lighthouse was converted to battery operation. Mains electricity is used to charge the batteries and provide heat and light. Three 12 volt, 90 watt halogen lamps are used for the light.
Two red sectors mark shoals to the north and Sizewell Bank to the south. The main navigation light is white and has a range of 17 nautical miles, the red light 15 sea miles. The white and red group flash four times every 20 seconds.
For fishermen and mariners returning from long, cold nights at sea the sight of this light and the white outline of the Southwold Lighthouse itself must have been very welcome. Home is the sailor, home from the sea.
Continue on your walk past St James’s Green on the right, once the site of the coastguard station. The guns you can see here were recovered from merchant vessels which had foundered in Sole Bay. Take the snicket past the delightfully named Shrimp Cottage (pink, of course) to the Sailor’s Reading Room.
last updated: 22/04/2008 at 10:51
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